One of the GOP’s leading billionaire donors is also funding 96 percent of a super PAC named “Black Americans for a Better Future.”
Funny thing is, that donor, eccentric billionaire Robert Mercer, is white.
Two eagle-eyed watchdogs, Derek Willis of ProPublica and Dave Levinthal of Public Integrity, spotted the funding in a recent set of FEC filings, and The Intercept first reported the news. As the filings showed, Mercer has provided $400,000 of the group’s $417,250 donations so far.
Is it odd that an organization that says it’s made up of “Black Americans” is in fact bankrolled by a white billionaire? Sure, but that’s just the beginning.
The organization, “Black Americans for a Better Future,” essentially a one-person shop run by longtime GOP political operative Raynard Jackson.
Jackson is an unusual character. This is clear even on the surface: his slapdash website looks like a bad parody of 1998, and is littered with typos and grammatical mistakes. (“Is homosexual entitlements the new civil rights?” “I am also available for speaking engagements also.”)
But the weirdness goes deeper than that.
So far, the only expenditures for “Black Americans for a Better Future” are Jackson’s own salary of $155,000, travel costs (including, as The Intercept reporting, $5,000 at Morton’s Steakhouse in New York), and the $13,000 cost of its only activity thus far, a November 17 luncheon at the National Press Club.
Jackson himself is a profilic blogger who often takes fellow African Americans to task. His favorite target, unsurprisingly, is President Obama, of whom Jackson says, “He is light skinned, has no connection with the Black community, Ivy League educated, and seems very uncomfortable around Blacks who are not part of the bourgeoisie.”
Jackson is also not fond of Spike Lee, describing Lee’s newest film, Chi-Raq, as a “profanity laced, liberally biased, finger pointing diatribe that blames Republicans and Whites for all the murders taking place in Chicago.”
It’s an odd critique, given that Chi-Raq, a retelling of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, is about black women demanding that black men stop killing each other (and withholding sex until they do), clearly placing responsibility, for the most part, on black men.
Maybe that’s because Jackson’s “review” is actually a pitch for one of his pet projects.
“It is extremely imperative that Republicans have an active surrogates program,” Jackson writes. “Black Republicans are constantly ridiculed in movies, TV sit-coms, and in pop culture. I have constantly expressed to party leaders the necessity of having a vibrant surrogates program where Black Republicans are seen on TV, heard on the radio, and interviewed in newspapers.”
Who does Jackson like? “Black men need more white women like Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham,” Jackson wrote in a 2014 post. Even though they are conservative media personalities, they have done more to promote the well-being of black males than many of the very women who stridently complain about the lack of ‘eligible’ black men.”
Jackson explains that Coulter’s anti-immigration stance helps black people, quoting her statement that “We owe black people something… We have a legacy of slavery. Immigrants haven’t even been in this country.” As for Ingraham, Jackson quotes her statement that Democrats “turn their heads away from the millions upon millions of black babies slaughtered in the womb over 10 years.… Is that racist?”
Jackson concludes, “We black men need more white women like Coulter and Ingraham, not back [sic] women who will give a pass to a failing black president.”
Of course, it’s not just black women; President Obama received 96 percent of the African American vote in 2012. But Jackson says they are deluded by Black leaders who refuse to criticize the president else they “jeopardize their invitations to the White House’s Christmas party.”
So, Jackson continued, “it’s ok to do specific things for the Black bourgeoisie—private invitations to the White House, rides on Air Force One, private movie screenings at the White House, but [Obama] can’t do things specifically to address the high unemployment rate in the Black community?”
(The black unemployment rate when Obama took office was 12.7 percent; as of June, 2015, it was 9.5 percent. Obama also started the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative in 2014 to focus on improving the lives of young African American men.)
In fact, the predominant theme in Jackson’s many online screeds seems to be his own resentment at being excluded from such elite circles. In a 2015 blog post, he complained that GOP chairman Rience Priebus stole his idea of giving out a “Black Republican Trailblazer Award” each February.
Most curiously, he complained in 2012 that “My Republican Party Has Abandoned Me” and rebuffed his efforts to attract more black voters. And yet, he wrote in 2012, “twice this year some of these same people have approached me about funding for some election year tricks that they (White Republicans) have conjured up and simply need a Black face to execute the plan. On these two separate occasions, these funders were willing to spend upwards of $20 million to have me organize a national campaign to identify Blacks who would be critical of President Obama.”
But wait, isn’t that exactly what Robert Mercer is paying him $400,000 to do in 2016?
The funding is not out of character for Mercer, part of a small cadre of .01-percenters who have bankrolled Cruz, upended the Republican Party, and mainstreamed formerly fringe ideas like abolishing the EPA and returning America to the gold standard. Last year, cluster of pro-Cruz super PACs called “Keep the Promise” raised over $38 million, chiefly from four extremely wealthy individuals: $11 million from Mercer, $15 million came from Farris and Dan Wilks, two brothers who made their fortune in the fracking industry, and $10 million from Toby Neugebauer, founder of the private equity firm Quantum Energy Partners.
Even that is just a small piece of the pie. Since 2012, Mercer has given $15 million in support of a wide range of ultra-conservative causes, candidates, and think tanks, including the tobacco-denier-turned-climate-change-denier Heartland institute ($4 million). That’s in addition to $10 million he invested in the far-right news site Breitbart.com back in 2011.
Moreover, as my colleague Mike Daly described last week, and Bloomberg Politics’ Zachary Mider reported in an excellent long-form profile, Mercer is an odd duck. A former computer programmer, Mercer is co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a fabulously successful hedge fund based on sophisticated computer modeling and algorithms. One of its funds earned an astonishing 39 percent average annual return from 1989 to 2006. (Mercer joined the firm in 1993 and became co-CEO in 2009.)
Renaissance has also been investigated by Congress and the IRS for using accounting tricks to dodge $6.8 billion in taxes. The IRS investigation is still underway. (Cruz, of course, has promised to abolish the IRS.)
In his spare time, Mercer has funded quack scientists and fringe political candidates (or both: one Mercer-funded candidate is also stockpiling a huge collection of human urine), played at the world series of poker, and installed a model train set in his mansion at a price tag of $2.7 million.
Now, it’s too much of a stretch to impute Jackson’s quixotic ideas, via Mercer, to Ted Cruz himself. True, both Cruz and Jackson are beneficiaries of the same idiosyncratic billionaire donor. True, they share a certain dislike of the currently sitting president. But Cruz is no more responsible for BAFBF than he is for Mercer’s $2 million dollar train set.
And Jackson gets around: his website features pictures of him with George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Hillary Clinton, Thomas “Hitman” Hearns, and even segregationist fanboy Senator Trent Lott.
But this is the world in which Cruz travels. The same donor who has underwritten nearly one-third of his “independent” super PAC is also funding a wingnut shill to be the black face of faceless white billionaires.